In response to my little excursus on President Bush’s faith-based initiative, I’ve received an extended comment from Bob Wineburg, a professor at UNC-Greensboro who knows a whole lot more about the subject than I do. I’ve posted his comments after the jump below, and would only make a couple of remarks proleptically in response.
First, in saying that the initiative started out as “a bi-partisan, motherhood-and-apple-pie exercise,” I meant to point as much to the spin as to the underlying reality. Pace Wineburg, though, I remain persuaded that the enterprise was not the exercise in culture-war politics that it later became. The religious right was never very enthusiastic about the thing. As my former colleague Dennis Hoover always emphasizes, this was a center-right initiative that raised almost as many hackles to the right as to the left. That’s not to say that DiIulio didn’t have has conservative pals. But he was certainly not on board with the the politics that emerged in the course of the spring of 2001 and gave him the heave-ho.
Second, I agree that Towey is still trying to shape the discourse in an intellectually unimpressive if not disreputable way. The claims of government bias against faith-based providers were always overblown, and at least Melissa Rogers sees the administration (in the person of Attorney General Mukasey) retreating from them. My own view is that the problem stems, quite simply, from the fact that certain faith-based providers (white evangelicals preeminently) are committed to the view that the best way to help people is to bring them to Christ, and there are real establishment-clause problems with the government subsidizing such an evangelistic approach).
Which brings us to yesterday’s announcement that Barack Obama will be giving a speech on religion today in which he will support permitting faith-based organizations to discriminate religiously in hiring people to do social service provision with public funds. We’ll have to wait and see to what extent he’ll nuance this position, but there’s no question it’s going to raise some serious separationist antipathy. And, for reasons noted above, it may well not win him much support on the other side. If Obama, building on his hard experience organizing in Chicago, is really concerned about doing something about inner-city poverty and social dislocation, as opposed to making an ideologicaly demarche into the middle, then the idea of relaxing the hiring rules makes little sense. The faith-based programs that have always done important work in this area have not hurt for faith-based staff, they’ve hurt for material resources. The fundamental problem with the Bush initiative was that it never proposed more resources for the providers. I would expect Obama to do that. The hiring business, however, is both a can of worms and a red herring.
Update: Well, GOM’s got the Obama morning email briefing, and it seems that yesterday’s initial AP report got it completely wrong: the proposal will not permit faith-based hiring and firing decisions for government-funded programs. The email could not be more explicit about the proposed President’s Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships adhering to the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Now either AP was woefully misinformed or something happened between yesterday evening and this morning. I’m betting on the latter. Somebody like Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, who led the charge against the Bush employment-waiver legislation, got to Obama and read him the riot act. And a volte-face ensued. Good thing too.
Further update: The word on the street is that AP just messed up. For sure, there’s no sourcing of the claim that Obama was going to go with permitting discriminatory hiring. Pretty out of character for the AP to put an unverified, unsourced rumor in the lede. If so, bad job.
I read the same OPED by Mr.Towey and had quite a different reaction. But first a couple of points of disagreement with your piece. (1) There is no way that “in fact, the initiative started out as a bipartisan, motherhood-and-apple-pie exercise, with a Democrat as the point man and a president who seemed interested in proving his compassionate conservative bona fides.”
This is the impression the leaders wanted the public to believe but it just isn’t true.
I have followed this Initiative long before the “get go” and wrote about the people behind the scenes in the Faith-Based Initiative in my book:Faith-Based Inefficiency:The Follies of Bush’s Initiatives, including the Big D Democrat, John Dilulio who participated in many Manhattan and Hudson Institute events that shaped the the spin about the need for this initiative.
(2)What my major departure with the analysis here is not on the substance of the argument but on the fact that Towey is still shaping the discourse and luring in people on his terms. The whole Civil Rights spin came out of a government document Called UNLEVEL PLAYING FIELD: Barriers to Participation by Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Federal Social Service Programs, which came to be, and was written by Stanley Carlson Thies after the first attempt to sell the Initiative,based on pointing to the research showing churches being more effective at service delivery than secular organizations, didn’t take hold at all.Why, because it wasn’t true. I also write about this flawed but unexamined Civil Rights strategy and the weak document it was based on.
Towey also noted in his article that 70 mayors have Faith Based Initiatives. Well there are 16,000 cites in the US and after 7 years there is buy in from just 70 Mayors? Once upon a time this Initiative was about Results. Imagine a baseball player going 70 for 16,000 and claiming success as a hitter. How does Towey get away with this?
The real narrative ought to be about something else.
Even the early findings of the current research of my colleague Ram Cnaan from the University of Pennsylvania, and I are conducting in Wilmington Delaware, where we are examining both social service activities of congregations themselves and partnerships agencies have with them, warrants a brand new kind of discussion that starts with a bottom up question: How can communities match existing resources, and develop new ones to combat growing community needs? Agencies in our study named partnerships and the kinds of activities in which they are involved with forty seven percent of the community’s 400 congregations. Seventy one percent of the agencies in the United Way Network named at least one partnership through which congregations lend support with volunteers, money, use of congregational facilities and or provide goods and services. One division of state government named 22 local partnerships with congregations, while many nongovernmental agencies like the Red Cross named even more. My research in the early 1990s found the same sets of partnerships but was considered a Bible Belt anomaly and a simple case study as the work examined Greensboro North Carolina.In some ways that criticism was true. However,I argued then that I saw much of this activity, but not all, come to be as a result of the Reagan Budget cuts of the 1980s –a nationwide phenomena. The data proved my point that congregations have been part of community support system and their partnerships range from the complex and mature like the Red Cross, to flailing brand new ones.
We have much more to do in our analysis of what some will undoubtedly call a Northeast anomaly. But one thing is crystal clear to me. The next administration would serve the country well to support a faith-based initiative that is not a culture war in disguise. We need to fight poverty, not each other. The way to go about it is to find ways to provide resources to strengthen every community’s existing partnerships among religious congregations, nonprofit agencies and yes, government services. When Mr.Towey and other apologists for the Faith Based Initiative start talking about strengthening the whole local human service system by chronicling community needs and cataloging community resources and matching them with 21st century planning techniques, I might get lured into Towey’s, Dilulio’s and Kuo’s game. The religious community is a limited partner with government and nonprofits. The partnership can be made better — and that is it. And it must be done with local buy in and not be a Washington run puppet show.